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Oklahoma Children Survive Horrific Night of Violence That Claimed the Lives of Their Parents
Two intruders stormed into the Douglass house in October 1979, robbing the family and chillingly shooting all four as they lay face down on their living room floor.
The Douglass family was about to sit down to dinner in their quiet Oklahoma home when their lives changed forever.
Two men came into the home with guns, robbed them, raped 12-year-old Leslie Douglass, and hog-tied the family up, forcing them to lie face down on the ground before they systematically went down a line and shot the family of four, according to Dateline: Unforgettable.
Patriarch Richard Douglass, a beloved reverend at Putnam City Baptist Church, and his wife, Marilyn, died minutes later, but the couple’s two children, Brooks, then 16 years old, and Leslie survived.
For years, the horrific and senseless violence would continue to haunt the siblings as they tried to move on with their lives and get justice for their parents.
“The cruelty of it, the sheer brutality was unbelievable, but real. It was a miracle they lived through it, just two frightened kids, the night terror knocked on their door,” Dateline reporter Keith Morrison said.
What happened to the Douglass family?
Before the brutal murders, the Douglass family had been living an idyllic life. Some of their happiest years were spent in the jungles of Brazil where Richard worked at a missionary outpost before returning to Oklahoma.
Once back in the United States, Richard, known to those who knew him as kind and approachable, became the pastor of the 3,000-member Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.
“If he wasn’t at the church, he was visiting people and helping them work out their problems all the time,” Leslie recalled.
His family settled into a modest rural home just outside Okarche, Oklahoma. By 1979, Brooks was a high school senior, playing on the football team. Leslie, then 12 years old, was a frequent contestant in beauty pageants, often donning dresses her mother made herself.
The family’s door was always open to anyone in need, so when there was a knock the evening of October 15, 1979, no one thought it was unusual. Marilyn and Leslie were in the kitchen just finishing up dinner, so a teenage Brooks went to the door to answer it.
A bearded stranger asked to come in to use the phone. Brooks let the man inside the house and he made his way to the telephone before feigning that he had left the phone number he needed in the car. When he returned, he pulled out a .357 handgun and another man, armed with a double barrel shotgun, rushed into the house behind him.
The men told the family it was a robbery and ordered them to lie face down on the living room floor, where they hog-tied them with rope.
The men then took young Leslie into a back bedroom and took turns raping her. Once they brought her back into the living room, they helped themselves to the family’s dinner and then one of the men ordered the other outside. He told him to start the car and “listen for the sound.”
Brooks knew they likely weren’t going to make it out of the harrowing ordeal alive. As the family laid on the living room floor, the man coldly went down the line and shot each one before running out of the house. Brooks, who was shot twice in the back, maneuvered over to his parents.
“I went over to my mom and was untying her ropes with my teeth. I was able to get a hold of them and I said, ‘I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad,’” he recalled.
He watched as his mother then took her last breath. Brooks made his way over to his father and tried to comfort the patriarch, telling him he and Leslie would be OK, before Richard succumbed to his injuries too.
Leslie — who also suffered two gunshot wounds — was somehow able to escape her bonds and ran to the kitchen to get a knife to cut the ropes tying up her brother.
“You just think, you know, ‘I want to live, I want to be here. I have to do something, I can’t just lay here,’” Leslie said of what drove her that night.
The siblings stumbled to the family car and drove to the nearby home of a family friend, who helped carry them to a nearby hospital.
The next few weeks were a blur. Now orphaned, Brooks and Leslie recovered from their gunshot wounds. While Brooks stayed in town with some church friends to finish school, Leslie went to live with family.
How Glen Ake and Steven Hatch were caught
Within hours of the murders, investigators tracked down the identities of the killers, in part because of their distinctive yellow Chevy Malibu. Hours before the attack on the Douglass family, the pair had pulled off another home robbery in nearby Hennessey, Oklahoma.
Witnesses reported seeing the car, which investigators tracked to a nearby oil field. Two employees, identified as Glen Ake and Steven Hatch, quit their jobs that morning falsely believing they were wanted for a parole violation and took off in the borrowed vehicle. But by the time they were identified, Ake and Hatch had already been on the run for hours and disappeared before they could be arrested.
The pair eventually made their way to Lumberton, Texas where they robbed and killed two more men under eerily similar circumstances to the Douglass killings. Then they headed to Colorado, where they broke into a cabin and took the homeowner hostage. The homeowner cleverly offered the men beer and waited for them to pass out before escaping from the home and making his way to the sheriff’s office.
He was able to identify the two men as the wanted fugitives and authorities stormed the ranch house, taking both men into custody six weeks after the Douglass murders.
Hatch and Ake were brought back to Oklahoma, and along the way, the men told authorities they wanted to make a confession. On Thanksgiving night, at the sheriff’s office, both men chillingly recounted their crimes.
“They told us they didn’t do that kind of stuff, in their words, unless they were drunk, and they had been drinking heavily the day that this happened,” Canadian County Sheriff Lynn D. Stedman told the show, adding that the men were also high on speed and cocaine.
Ake admitted to being the shooter, insisting that Hatch had “no gut” to shoot anyone.
“All this doing was my brain, not his,” he said, then asked for the death penalty.
It seemed like an open and shut case, but the agonizing legal drama would play out for decades and force Brooks and Leslie to take the stand time and time again to recount their horror.
At their initial trials, both men were found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty. A U.S. Supreme Court decision on a separate case in Florida would lead to Hatch’s death sentence being vacated twice, then later reinstated. Ake got a new trial in 1985 after the Supreme Court ruled prosecutors had failed to provide a psychiatrist at the state’s expense in the initial trial.
He was convicted once again, but this time, he received life in prison.
Brooks and Leslie had to testify again in 1996 at Hatch’s clemency hearing, shortly before his execution.
Despite the constant legal dramas, Leslie went on to become a teacher and later a school assistant principal, had her own family, and tried the best she could to move on with her life.
“I never wanted to seem like this person that just, you know, hid and fell apart and be this stereotypical person that goes through all this kind of stuff,” Leslie said. “I wanted to make something of myself.”
Brooks went to law school and became the state’s youngest state senator at the age of 27, using his political power to become an advocate for victims’ rights. Yet, he still remained haunted by the trauma, cycling through several marriages.
“I look back and I was just building this coat of armor and that was killing me and it was killing my marriages, you know, whatever, my friendships,” Brooks said. “At the end of the day it was protecting me, but it was keeping me away from people that I loved.”
It wasn’t until he visited Ake in prison in 1995 and surprised himself by forgiving the killer that he was ultimately able to find a sense of peace.
“If we’re going to move on past the things in our past, we’ve got to find a way to forgive or be forgiven,” Brooks said.
Then, in a final act of healing, Brooks, by then a married father living in California, decided to turn his family’s story of trauma and forgiveness into the movie Heaven’s Rain. He even played the role of his father in the film, which premiered in 2010.
Brooks died of cancer at the age of 56 in 2020.
His parent’s killer, Ake, died in prison in May of 2011 of natural causes.